In airfare wars, consumers win
The end of the busy summer travel season always brings a drop in prices, but we have also seen some short-lived sales recently with great fares for travel in summer and beyond.
In the first week of July, we saw Delta cut the airfares from Dallas to Barcelona and Madrid to $725 round trip, and they also cut the airfare to London to $835 round trip. This temporary sale lasted 36 hours. The most amazing thing: The fares were for peak summer July and August travel dates. The sale fares were close to 50 percent off the regular summer prices.
We call these snooze-you-lose fares because they sometimes only last a few hours. If you don't buy them when you first see them, you could be out of luck. These temporary fare reductions can be due to competition with other airlines, the need to fill seats or just a pricing mistake.
Even though American controls Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the other carriers, such as Delta and United, must keep their business travelers happy by offering flights to and from the airport. Sometimes those airlines don't get their fair share of seats sold. To fill those seats, they will offer snooze-you-lose fares. Those temporary sales can be up to 50 percent off the competitors' airfares, especially those offered by American at D/FW.
The only downside is that you often won't be able to fly nonstop to get these lower fares. Besides destinations across the U.S., some of the more popular destinations where we sometimes see big cuts are to San Juan, the Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico.
American has had a thorn in its side for the last 18 months, which is Spirit Airlines. American would like to keep Spirit's growth down; in the last couple of weeks we've seen American offer temporary sale fares on Spirit's routes for September travel.
American has been matching some of Spirit's fares dollar for dollar, but without the incremental fees Spirit charges for things like seat assignments, carry-on luggage and even $10 to print a boarding pass at the airport.
We have seen $119 round-trip fares from Dallas to New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio and Austin; and $149 round-trip fares from Dallas to Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia. We also saw $169 round-trip fares from Dallas to Baltimore and to Fort Lauderdale, which is probably one of the best buys to Florida for travel in September and October. We even saw New York JFK, Tampa and Las Vegas for $239 round trip from Dallas.
All of these fares were available on American nonstop flights for travel in September. Some were also valid for travel in October through the middle of November and also the two weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When Delta offered its temporary fares to Europe, it offered them from Dallas and every other hub city where the new American Airlines is the dominant carrier.
This was a targeted retaliation fare directed at American. Sometimes the targeted airline will come back and offer its own snooze-you-lose fares, usually matching the airfares to the same destinations, but from the other airline's hub cities.
We have seen American attack other airlines' hubs with lower airfares; to return the favor, we've gotten snooze-you-lose fares launched by those airlines for flights to and from D/FW. When this happens, the traveling public ends up as big winners.
This past week we saw Dallas to Boston selling for only $109 round trip, and the fare was available for three days. I'm not sure if this was a mistake fare and the person keyed in round trip when they meant to key in one-way.
Snooze-you-lose fares sometimes have a long travel period. I recently found a $259 fare from Dallas to Reagan Washington National Airport for travel through June 5, 2015. This summer that fare has been averaging in the $400 range. You could save even more by looking at prices to nearby Baltimore, where we've been seeing fares as low as $169 round trip.
The best time to look for snooze-you-lose fares is as soon as you know you are flying. These sales can happen any day of the week.
Keep an open mind because a city could go on sale with an amazing price - and even if it wasn't on your travel list before, you might want to reconsider. You may not be thinking about going to Hawaii, but if you see a $450 fare, you might want to start thinking about it.
The further out you are looking for a fare, the better chance you have of getting a lower rate. If you've been looking at $350 fares in a market and it drops to $198, don't delay — that fare might fly away.
Tom Parsons is CEO of www.bestfares.com. Email him at mediabestfares.com.
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